Supportive performance management can help retention


Schools may be able to combat waning teacher retention levels by adjusting their approach to performance management, research suggests.


With the number of teachers in state schools dropping to the lowest levels for five years in 2018 and the secondary school pupil population alone predicted to rise by 400,000 (14.7%) by 2027, the staff retention crisis remains an increasingly pressing concern for schools.
The Public Accounts Committee has warned that teacher retention rates are at risk of causing grave issues for UK schools, with chair Meg Hillier urging: “The Government must get a grip on teacher retention and we expect it to set out a targeted, measurable plan to support struggling schools as a matter of urgency.”


Low job satisfaction is a leading factor in the downward trajectory of teacher retention levels, with the Department for Education finding that an increasing number of teachers are leaving the profession for reasons other than retirement due to dissatisfaction with workload , pay and a lack of professional development opportunity.  Whilst efforts towards boosting teacher satisfaction have largely tended towards proposals to decrease workload and offer pay incentives, schools may also be able to improve their retention rates by simply rethinking their management practices to place a higher priority on the needs of staff.  According to research, teachers are significantly more likely to remain in schools where performance management policies are supportive and place an emphasis on career development opportunities for their employees.  To tackle retention issues, schools should therefore seek to instil a more supportive ethos in their performance management strategies: encouraging strong management-teacher communications, prioritising professional development opportunities, inviting staff feedback and placing more emphasis in performance conversations on teachers’ support needs rather than on targets and pupil outcomes.

Balancing teacher performance and needs

In harnessing performance management for the benefit of improving teacher retention levels, schools need to balance a managerial focus on supporting teachers and their personal career development alongside more traditional focus on improving pupil outcomes.   Achieving this balance is key to preserving the essential role of performance management in pupil outcomes, with one study finding that a 1 point improvement in performance management on a scale of 1 to 5 equates to an improvement of approximately four GCSE grades per pupil.  In addition, an average difference of two GSCE grades per pupil has been found between UK schools with average management scores and those in the lowest 10% of management efficacy.
Schools can best balance this twin managerial focus on teacher support and pupil outcomes through identifying strategies which serve both aims where possible.


For example, in terms of communication, implementing frequent teacher-management meetings for feedback and reviews can not only help managers to monitor and address problems with performance targets, but can also help to ensure that teachers feel valued and supported. 
Schools should aim to foster a general culture of open communication between teachers and school leadership at all levels, with studies showing higher retention rates at schools where head-teachers instate an open-door office policy, prioritise communication and make a point to meet with new teachers.


The nature as well as frequency of this communication is important to improving relationships: discussions between management and leadership should not solely comprise performance-based feedback, but also include consideration of the teacher as an individual and their needs. 
As well as inviting feedback from teachers in formal sit-down meetings, school leaders should try to take a more personal interest in staff and make an effort to acknowledge any achievements: whether via email or simply in casual conversation.  Through small, positive, personal gestures, school leaders can counter and compliment more performance-centric discussions to make staff feel more valued, as researchers note that “many teachers…do not feel valued or reward sufficiently for their efforts by …leaders in their schools.”

Prioritising continuing professional development in performance management practice is another way to make teachers feel valued and supported. As National Association of Head Teachers general secretary Paul Whiteman observes:


“Professional training [is] not keeping pace with teachers’ expectations. They don’t ask for much but they are getting even less.”


With 60% of teachers leaving their last job for reasons related to career advancement or development, schools must make sure to offer accomplished teachers sufficient growth opportunities to keep them satisfied.  Teachers who perform well in periodic performance reviews and are not feeling challenged enough by their targets should therefore be offered the opportunity to take on new roles within the school as peer assistants or project coordinators. 
By offering accomplished teachers these opportunities, schools can provide quality staff with the leadership and administrative experience they desire and in turn invest in the next generation of the school’s leadership, while also likely seeing benefits to school performance.

Managerial support training key

In addition to improving communication and career development, schools must ensure that their performance management policies provide adequate general support to teachers. 
A lack of proper support can lead to problems with both teacher performance and retention rates, with high teacher turnover more common in schools with poor school management support.  In one US survey of 32,000 teachers, the quality of peer and administrative support offered by a school ranked among the key deciding factors in a teacher’s choice to leave their profession.  School leaders should therefore aim to instate policies that make teachers feel supported, trusted and engaged by their leadership and management: ensuring that teachers are involved in important decisions and that managers are equipped to nurture their staff.
To achieve this, it is important that managers are given proper training in how to effectively support teachers and deliver performance appraisals.  This will offer teachers the work and resource support they need to manage their workload, focus on teaching and improve their performance — ultimately leading to gains in job satisfaction and staff retention.


Support for new and incoming teachers is particularly important in order to maintain good pupil outcomes and build strong working relationships between management and teachers, ensuring that new staff are able to perform well and feel invested in the school.
New teachers should be offered additional support from managers, through initiatives such as mentor allocations and induction programs.  This support should be followed through as teachers progress, with measures such as monthly one-on-one meetings to address teachers’ support needs and performance.


In addition, more experienced teachers should be offered the opportunity to engage in the school’s decision making processes, by being invited to board meetings and other administrative discussions.  Including staff in important decisions will help to promote an environment of trust, boosting job satisfaction and retention rates.  To this end, performance management policies should also aim to give teachers as much latitude as possible over how their classrooms are run and engage teachers in setting their own objectives.

Improving Performance Management

Educate specialises in helping making performance management easier, faster and more effective.Educate supports teachers, school leaders, governors and education managers to develop and implement best practice staff performance management systems that deliver improved learning.

To learn more on how Educate can help your school improve its performance management practices please email Carol French on carolfrench@educate.co.uk  or call 020 3411 1080.